I believe some people in this country might have more empathy for English-language learners if they had studied a second language. In my case, at least, while trying to get a handle on the subjunctive mode and other difficult aspects of Spanish, I may have gained some insight into some of the challenges that English-learners face. Even after many years of study, I shudder to think of all the mistakes I make when speaking Spanish.
So I thought it was noteworthy when I learned this week that the U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings recently tried her hand at studying Arabic. Someone passed this news along to me while I was writing about a report released this week to the U.S. Congress by the National Research Council about the U.S. Department of Education’s programs for the teaching of foreign languages and cultures (For information on how to buy it, click here). The report doesn’t have anything to do with English-learners, but I do wonder what might happen to the climate in U.S. schools for such students if native speakers of English had to spend more time in serious study of foreign languages and cultures.
Casey Ruberg, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said Ms. Spellings--who isn’t fluent in any languages other than English--became interested in learning Arabic when she met with education ministers from around the world in Jordan in 2005. She started to take Arabic lessons before attending a second meeting of education ministers in Egypt last year. She met several times a month with a tutor. “Due to time constraints on her schedule, she is no longer meeting with a tutor, but maintains an interest in learning the language,” Ms. Ruberg said.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.